It was not the first time a proposal to build low-cost housing stirred emotions in Anaheim. This time, though, all five City Council members said they were embarrassed, even repulsed, by comments from those who spoke out against providing housing for the mentally disabled.
Issues surrounding the planned complex have drawn the attention of low-cost-housing advocates from throughout Orange County. But most of the contentiousness at Tuesday night's council meeting came from about 100 neighbors and business owners. City officials said the 33-unit apartment complex and counseling center in central Anaheim would be for the mentally disabled, some of whom are homeless and capable of living independently.
Robert Cueva, a longtime Anaheim resident, said the project near Lincoln Avenue and the Santa Ana Freeway would "dump a bunch of undesirables on us." Stan Pawlowski, a banker, said the influx of "parolees, child molesters and the mentally ill" would make the area unsafe for children.
A girl identifying herself as a junior high student said, "I don't want people that are crazy around my neighborhood, and I don't want mentally ill people to hurt me or my friends."
Low-cost housing has been a controversial issue in Anaheim, a rapidly growing city of 330,000 with two theme parks, a slew of hotels and hundreds of service-sector jobs. In the last few months, the council has sparred over the viability of a low-cost-housing project in the resort district and the conversion of a 390-unit apartment complex to condominiums.
The council shelved the proposal Tuesday, members say, only because it didn't address the shortage of low-cost housing for families -- 29 of the 33 units would be studios and one-bedroom units. The five council members appeared shaken by the harsh language of those denouncing the proposal and were quick to indicate that their lack of support for the project had little to do with neighborhood opposition.
"I am brokenhearted, just ashamed at some of the comments I've heard," Councilwoman Lorri Galloway said.
Councilman Richard Chavez was almost in tears when he addressed the crowd. "How do we hurt you by taking someone off the street and finding a home for them?" he asked. "I'm not in support of this project here, but I'll do anything I can to find a new location for homeless people who are mentally ill."
Mayor Curt Pringle said he was "saddened by the misplaced community anger" to the proposed apartment complex and said he grudgingly decided against supporting it. He said he was so angry with the comments he heard that he almost voted in favor of the project out of spite.
Councilman Harry Sidhu scolded those who didn't want the mentally disabled and homeless in their neighborhood.
"They could be your father, mother, son or daughter," he said. "We don't ignore them. People are not born homeless. They become homeless because of their circumstances."
The council directed the project's developer, Jamboree Housing Corp., a nonprofit housing agency, to return with a plan for more family-oriented housing that would include larger units. Lisa Stipkovich, the city's community development director, said the city would seek other sites for the complex.